I’m reading a book called The Poisonwood Bible about a missionary who takes his wife and daughters to the Congo in the late 50s. It gets so familiar that it jars me. I like to think that my missionary philosophy was a direct response to his. He wanted to show Africa the power of American Evangelicalism. I wanted to see some kind of Sindhi Evangelicalism take root. We called it Incarnational Ministry, and Paul’s commitment to “become all things to all people” was my modus operandi.
It made me a gentler missionary than Nathan Price, I suppose. And it allowed me to see some beauty in Pakistan and her cultures. But I was still a fundamentalist, so I couldn’t see the value of any faith here, except insofar as it accorded with the core of my own.
So despite my desi dress and family and lifestyle, I was still set apart–in Sindh but not of it. I suppose I took it as a badge of honour at the time. But my constant dissatisfaction with the way my neighbours worshipped and viewed the world built a wall around me, and they could sense it.
I’ve come to embrace a new mantra since then, borrowed from a Christian ska band: Freedom means love without condition. I still can’t say that I am of Sindh, but I can embrace my family and friends here with a kind of abandon I wasn’t able to before. I’m thankful for that much.
Construction is real in Sindh. Many of the roads have been completely re-done. Here in Sanghar the main road used to be a bumpy mess of rocks and water that would never completely dry up. Now it’s as smooth as anything you’d drive on in Canada.
Once you get out of the city it’s a different story. Mirpur Khas is fifty-seven kilometres away, but it took us two and a half hours to get there. The roads were a mess, gouged out by fervent construction.
Rattanabad has changed, too. I don’t even recognize the place. But I recognize the people, though they’ve all changed, too.
To say that everything changes may be banal, because what else would everything do? But the banal things might be the most real, after all.
We went for a picnic in Noni’s village. I haven’t seen them for eight years. The children all grew up. The adults haven’t changed much. I was showered with hugs and wet kisses. I didn’t realized how much I’d missed them.
It’s not the same village they were in when I lived here. Apparently there was a quarrel with the landlord and they had to move.
We found Ambo in the fields, planting cotton with his wife and kids. We crossed through on raised paths and sat in a little copse of trees. There were little green mangos already growing on one. We peeled some, and ate them with salt.
Ambo tells me cotton is one of the best things to plant, because it grows all year round. He asked if we planted cotton in Canada. I said I was pretty sure we don’t. A few more relatives took a break from fieldwork to join us.
I didn’t eat much, but I laughed a lot. I wondered why I hadn’t had a picnic in the field back when I lived here. Then someone started smoking hash, and I remembered that missionaries don’t often get invited where there’s hash in the air.
I wonder what it would be like to live here now that I no longer believe I’m on God’s great mission to ‘fix’ everything.
Took a plane and went to Pakistan alone. My wife and kids must be missing me, and I still haven’t blogged at all about my journey.
Don’t blame me, it’s been a whirlwind.
I took a day in Karachi to rest and draw up energy. Considering how I feel now, it was a good choice.
Saddar is the only part of Karachi I know well, so I picked a hotel there. But it’s changed. What used to be an eternal excavation site has grown up into a mall. There’s a cinema and a Dunkin’ Donuts and everything–donut was a bit stale, but the coffee was great. I would have seen a movie but the one I wanted to watch started at 10:30 and I wasn’t looking forward to walking back to my hotel after midnight in Saddar.
No Dunkin’ Donuts in Sanghar, of course. That’s where I’ll be spending most of my time, hanging with my in-laws. I haven’t been taking the best pictures because it’s been busy enough just sitting and eating and smiling with everyone.
Sixty-five drafts are in my queue. They’re diverse. Not really posts, but post-like ideas. Everyone once in a while I’ll browse them, try to turn one into something worth showing. Usually I end up adding another draft to the pile. There were sixty-two in queue yesterday.
One is about a flashing ambulance and the two paramedics I saw walk calmly out. It sets up some cool images, but doesn’t land anywhere. Another starts into neat ideas on incarnational ministry, then fails to crystallize. There’s a list I started: Top Ten Signs you Grew up Brethren; I only have three items. And a Happy First Birthday post for my son who’ll be four next month. I bet there’s twenty thousand words of drafts here.
Oh jeez, look at that. Most of these are from when I put two spaces after a period. No wonder I can’t do anything with them.
After I lost faith, someone mailed a Bible to me. It was my own Bible, misplaced years ago and given up for lost. It was good to hold it and let it open to worn, weathered pages. Some sections are positively brown from exposure.
These days, my projects have sent me looking into the past, at faith and fundamentalism and worship. My Bible is open on my desk, and I often run my eyes over familiar passages with great tenderness. The other day I found a verse that had been highlighted. I know I didn’t do it–when I bought this Bible I had decided to never mark it. It was lost for years, so there’s no way to guess who marked it, or why, or what the verse means to them:
For in much wisdom is much vexation, and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow. Ecclesiastes 1:18
Having never had much wisdom or knowledge, I can’t say whether this is true or not. But I do like Ecclesiastes, and one of the positive things about being faithless is that I can take these words whichever way I can muster, or just leave them altogether. Or flip over a few pages to other words that say other things.
Go, eat your bread in joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.
Enjoy life with the ones you love, all the days of your vain life, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil. Whatever your hand finds to do with your might, do it. For there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in the grave, to which you are going. Ecclesiastes 9:7-10
You can totally go back and kill your grandfather. The universe won’t stop you; it doesn’t care if things don’t make sense. Bang, he’s dead. You’ll never be born.
So when you travel forward to the time you came from, you’re out of place. It’s not that you were never born–of course you were born; you’d remember it if your brain had been wired for it back then–but you were never born here. You arrive at a world in which you’ve never existed. You are utterly alone, with no birth, friends or connection to the world. No one exists who can look at you and say, “Oh hi, I know you.”
So don’t go back and kill your grandfather. You wouldn’t like it.
Though it seems a great premise for a sci-fi about assassins.
Asha came in while I was working. I took a break to ask about her day, and what she was working on. A comic about a vampire named Lucas. A book about a superhero named Smirk.
“Good stuff,” I said. Then she asked what I was working on.
“Oh, you know, just trying to figure out if humans are epistemically bounded.”
I took a breath. I was tempted to wave it off. After all, how could a seven-year-old engage with this? Then I thought, hell, give it a shot.
“Well, it’s the question of whether or not there are some ideas that we just can’t have because of how our brains are.”
Her brow furrowed as her mind lingered over my words. Then her eyes slowly widened. Her mouth dropped open a little.
“Wow,” she whispered through a smile. “That’s … that’s hard. And cool!”
I grinned at my little philosopher. “It sure is.”
The rain had ended during my lecture and the sky was warm and blue. I looked north on my way to the library and stopped to let out a worshipful gasp. Behind the old chapel, past the campus and half-finished condos, great low-flying clouds pushed their way across the sky. It was as if the city itself were flooding above the world, a developing babel basking in the sunlight.
I would have stayed to watch, but I had an essay to write.
When I sat in the library, covered in artificial lights, I was tempted for a moment to regret being indoors, missing the view. Then I remembered my discipline was Cognitive Science, and my goal the Hard Problem. I chuckled. Surely this will hold at least as much wonder as the clouds.